In the September/October 1973 issue of MOTHER EARTH NEWS, Mike Kiernan discussed the problems created by this country's expanding pet population. I'd like to add a word on a couple of alternative methods of animal birth control to deal with pet overpopulation that Mike didn't mention. One is available now — I have had it done several times — and the other is a very promising possibility for the near future.
Spaying and neutering (the techniques of surgical sterilization to which Mike refers) are objectionable to many people, myself included, because they involve desexing the animal by removing the ovaries or testicles. This is not necessary to achieve sterility. A male pet can have a vasectomy and a female a Fallopian tubal ligation — just as humans can — without any impairment of its sex life. Alternatively, the female's uterus (womb) can be removed without disturbing the ovaries (which are also taken in spaying). I prefer this "plain" hysterectomy for my animals over the tying of the tubes because the former method eliminates the possibility of uterine infection—a common problem later on.
Since her operation, one of my female Siamese cats has a normal heat period every two or three months, the others less often. The animals tend to gain weight (I assume because their appetite level is designed to build them up for frequent pregnancies) but they show no change in personality or behavior. When there are young kittens in the house one of the sterilized females produces milk and helps to mother them, so she's not deprived of even that joy.
I've never had any particular trouble finding a veterinarian to operate in this way anywhere we've been stationed, although some of them take a very lofty tone with me for being so dirty-minded as to request it. ("Tell Jake to sleep on the roof.") The Fallopian tubal ligation and the "plain" hysterectomy cost about the same as spaying. One specialist I know of charges more for a vasectomy than for castration ("neutering"), another charges less.
A population-limiting possibility for the future — one that's now being researched — is the use of intrauterine devices for dogs. According to preliminary reports, my vet says, such a gadget would cost about $10.00 if installed by a professional. Since the operation doesn't involve surgery, he thinks there's a chance that paramedics might later be able to perform this service and thus reduce tremendously the cost of a birth control clinic run by a city or humane society. The IUD wouldn't interfere with the dog's sexual activities while in place, and could be removed if the owner desired to breed the animal later. The last report my informant had was that this technique was at least two years away from public use.